There are lessons in writing, as in life, that I seem to need over and over and over again. One of those lessons is that I need a lot of head space in order to write, to even want to write.
Let me see if I can quantify (isn’t that a great word?) what I mean, at least in my life. I teach English at a community college, which means I’m required to teach 15 credits of coursework each semester. This semester, I’m only teaching 12, 4 classes in total, but the other three credits are release time so that I can co-chair the accreditation for our school, a job which takes far more than three credit hours worth of work to complete. I also coordinate a Speakers Series with a colleague, bringing in national speakers to talk to our students and local community four times a year. Meanwhile, I also serve a committee that is looking at our developmental courses (the classes that help students get ready to do college-level work) as well as attend department meetings and faculty meetings regularly. All of these things I enjoy doing – but boy do they take up a lot of time.
Then, there’s home life which involves, too infrequently I’m afraid, caring for a townhouse that I own. I do have friends – who I see rarely – and the best parents in the world just a few hours away. I have a cat who probably feels like an orphan these days. And I go to church.
I know, by the way, that I am not as busy as some folks. In America, we bustle all the time, especially if we have kids. I know I’m not alone in this frenzy.
All of this means that if I’m not careful I can be busy doing something during every minute of every day, and I could also not sleep. But if I do that, not only am I too tired to write or even read, but I also have no motivation to write. I feel like I’ve drained the ideas out of my brain and put them into a little jar on the top shelf of a closed cabinet where I can’t even see them. Instead of asking myself questions about the world – the thing that I feel that I need to do to write – I just spend all of my mental time making lists of what I need to do. Do any of you ever feel this way?
This week, because of my cat’s death, I’ve been sort of forced to slow down. I took a couple of days off of work just to pull my life together (if you’ve ever cared for something or someone who is sick, I’ve learned this week, you become totally entwined with them in ways that you wouldn’t if that pet/person were healthy). And in those days, I just mostly sat around. I got a few things done around the house, but mostly I just wandered, sat on the deck and looked at the trees, watched my hostas pop up through the grass. Something about that slow time set me up to live a slow week. I got everything I needed to do done at work in a more efficient manner than I usually do because I was so fried that it took forever for me to do something like send an email. I came home and cleaned the house a bit. I read a lot. And I started to think about writing – thinking about it more than I have in a while.
Suddenly, I feel like myself again.
If you’d like to read someone who encourages this sort of slowness, I recommend Thomas Merton. He was a Trappist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. His books New Seeds of Contemplation and Thoughts in Solitude give great guidance on how to live a slower, more contemplative life.
So I’m making some decisions about this summer, when I’m fortunate enough to not have to work. I’m going to go on a retreat somewhere – the EOmega Institute, the Merton Institute, just camping on my own – but I’m going to get away for a while. I need to – for my writing and for me. Sometime this summer, I hope.